Gabriel Katzner - April 27, 2021 - Probate
When a loved one dies you may have many questions about estate planning

When a loved one dies, whether unexpectedly or anticipated, the shock and grief can be overwhelming and frequently immobilizing. Making phone calls and planning funerals take more effort than most people can muster in these difficult times. This post hopes to serve as a guide to help facilitate the process. This guide can complement the “Your Estate Planning Checklist” we also offer.


In the immediate minutes and hours after death, focus on what you and your family need. Sit with your loved one for a while. Give yourself time to call support people such as a pastor, priest, rabbi, or other religious advisors. Start a call list to notify family and friends, especially those whose presence would be comforting to you or other family members. If your loved one died in the hospital, ask the hospital staff for time to observe any religious rituals or customs that are important in your family.

If your loved one let you know they wanted to be an organ donor, or they indicated that wish on their driver’s license or health care directives, notify the hospital staff if the death occurred in a hospital or the nearest hospital if it did not. Ultimately, family members are able to make the final decision on organ donation if there are organs that are medically suitable for donation. A loved one’s wishes can override a preference listed in a national registry or organ donation site in your state.

As Soon As Possible

Obtain a legal pronouncement of death from the attending physician or hospice nurse. If the death occurred in a hospital or nursing home, the staff could handle this for you. If your loved one died under hospice care, a hospice nurse could declare the death.  If the death occurred at home, call for emergency care, and your loved one will be taken to an emergency room where the declaration of death can be made. Unless there is a need for further medical evaluation or an autopsy, a declaration for a death certificate can be issued. A declaration of death is required to plan a funeral and to handle all of the deceased’s legal affairs.

Notify more distant family and friends. Consider going through your loved one’s social media accounts to notify friends, coworkers, and acquaintances. Look through their phone contacts and their emails. Ask everyone to spread the word in the hopes that no one gets missed.

Caring for your loved ones

Ideally, you have had the opportunity to discuss their burial wishes and choice of funeral home with your loved one. If your loved one did not make arrangements with a funeral home in advance or any instructions on how to contact a funeral home, then it is up to the family. Once a funeral home has been identified, contact them to pick up your loved one’s body.

Review your loved one’s Last Will and Testament or nomination of guardians to determine their care plans for any dependent children, adults, or pets. If there is no will or nomination of guardian or these issues were not addressed, you may need to request that the court issue an emergency order to ensure that all dependent children and adults are properly cared for and protected.

Caring for property

Make arrangements to secure your loved one’s property, including their home and car. If the home will remain vacant, notify the police or a landlord. Lock up any jewelry or cash. Ask a family member or friend to check on the property regularly, check for email or phone messages, clean out perishables, and water any plants. Home pets with a family member or a kennel. Forward your loved one’s mail to yourself or someone who is helping you with this. Forwarding mail prevents it from piling up in front of the home, and it allows you to see which subscriptions need canceling.

Make funeral arrangements

Check to see if there is a prepaid burial plan. If your loved one was in the military, let the funeral home know if you want a military service. See if the Veterans Administration or a religious or fraternal group that your loved one belonged to provides burial benefits or conducts funerals.

Line up friends and relatives to be pallbearers, eulogize, plan the service, write thank-you notes, send the obituary to the newspaper, and arrange for a post-funeral gathering.

After a Couple of Weeks

After the immediate plans are taken care of, the next step is to begin the estate or trust settlement process. This process can become quite complex.

  1. Get certified copies of the death certificate. You will need these to close bank and brokerage accounts, file insurance claims, and register the death with government agencies.
  2. Review the Last Will and Testament and identify the executor that your loved one named.
  3. Meet with an attorney to help you with the many steps needed to settle an estate.
  4. Contact a CPA if your loved one needs to file a tax return.

An experienced probate and trust administration attorney can help you resolve any legal matters that may arise during this challenging time. You are welcome to schedule a call with us or reach us directly at 855.434.2062 to learn more about how best to plan today to protect those most important to you.


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